Germany’s lockdown proposal to ‘save Christmas’: What you need to know

A draft government document shows Chancellor Angela Merkel wants a partial lockdown in November to 'save Christmas'. Here's what we know so far.

Germany's lockdown proposal to 'save Christmas': What you need to know
A beer garden in Munich closed during the spring lockdown in April. Photo: DPA

Merkel is holding an emergency meeting with Germany's state leaders on Wednesday to discuss how to slow down the spread of Covid-19 throughout the country.

According to a draft document seen before the summit, Merkel is pushing for a partial nationwide lockdown that would see tough contact restrictions plus the closure of bars, restaurants and hotels. Schools and Kitas would remain open under the plans.

The idea would be for the lockdown to run for most of November in order to get some control of the situation so people can spend time with family at Christmas.

For the latest explainer on the coronavirus rules for Germany CLICK HERE

What's the aim?

Germany is aiming “to interrupt the infection dynamics quickly so that no far-reaching restrictions are necessary during the Christmas period”, according to the draft document.

“Families and friends should be able to meet each other even under corona conditions during the Christmas season. This requires a joint effort now, as was the case in spring.”

A far-reaching lockdown throughout Germany would apply throughout next month (starting November 2nd until the end of the month) under the proposals.

On Wednesday the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control reported 14,964 new Covid-19 infections within 24 hours. There have been 10,183 reported deaths in Germany since the start of the pandemic.

Contact restrictions

Under the draft plans, the government wants to impose new contact restrictions. It would mean people could only meet others from one other household (or their own household) in public throughout Germany.

Celebrations or gatherings in public places or in homes would not be allowed.

Hotel closures

Domestic tourist accommodation would be banned during the lockdown period, under the plans. It means overnight accommodation in Germany would only be offered for “necessary and expressedly non-tourist purposes”.

Merkel is meeting with state premiers on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Bars and restaurants shut

Hospitality establishments such as restaurants, bars, cafes and similar venues would close, except for deliveries and collection of food for takeaway.

Leisure facilities affected

Entertainment events would not be allowed throughout Germany for the entire lockdown period under plans.

Theatres, opera venues and concert halls would close. The closure proposal also covers recreational and amateur sports activities plus all sports facilities, including swimming pools, fitness studios and similar venues. Fairs, cinemas and amusement parks would also shut.

READ ALSO: Merkel set to 'push for lockdown light across Germany'

Schools, daycare centres and shops remain open

Schools and kindergartens should remain open, the draft states. However, states should introduce further protective measures in these areas. According to the draft, the retail trade should remain open overall, subject to conditions on hygiene, access control (thought to be one customer per 10 square metres of space) and avoidance of queues.

Beauty salons, massage facilities and tattoo shops

Due to the crisis, the federal government wants to close personal care businesses such as beauty salons, massage practices or tattoo studios for three and a half weeks in November.

Hairdressing salons, however, will remain open with the existing hygiene regulations, the document states. Medically necessary treatments such as physiotherapy should also continue to be possible.

Aid for businesses plus working from home

In view of the restrictions, the government wants to extend aid to companies and improve conditions for the badly affected economic sectors, such as the culture and events industry.

Industry, as well as small and medium-sized firms, should be able to work safely and comprehensively, the draft went on to say. Employers have a special responsibility for their employees to protect them from infections and to quickly identify infection chains.

Wherever feasible, working from home, or 'home office' as it's known in Germany, should be allowed by employers.

EXPLAINED: What might a new lockdown in Germany look like?

Risk groups

The elderly and other vulnerable people are to be given special protection. Rapid corona tests “should now be used quickly and as a priority in this area” so that safe contacts could be made, the draft states.

However, the special protection for people in hospitals, nursing homes and other similar facilities should not lead to complete social isolation, the government says.

Ahead of Wednesday's talks, Merkel said she understood that the coronavirus measures were asking a lot and stressed that they would only ever be temporary.

“The restrictions serve to protect our citizens and vulnerable groups in particular,” she said, adding that she wanted to avoid “millions of people being excluded from society”.

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Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation